Perrysburg Township Fire Dept. marks 50 years of service

9/25/2012
BY REBECCA CONKLIN KLEIBOEMER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Children explore a truck during an open house in 2009. Department officials say extinguishing fires remains a high priority, but one of the biggest changes over the decades is in medical training for department personnel.
Children explore a truck during an open house in 2009. Department officials say extinguishing fires remains a high priority, but one of the biggest changes over the decades is in medical training for department personnel.

Over 50 years, the training and territory may have changed for the Perrysburg Township Fire and EMS Department, but one thing remains the same: the camaraderie.

"We had a … good gang," recalled Paul Eckel, who retired in 1977 as the department's second chief and was among the honored guests this past weekend at the annual firefighters' banquet in Perrysburg Township.

Today's gang includes firefighters also trained as emergency medical technicians: 13 full time, four part time, and 24 volunteers. There also are a chief, deputy chief, three captains, and a fire inspector.

That fire inspector, Keith Feeney, goes by a range of nicknames.

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"He's called The Runt," Mr. Eckel offered.

"Disgruntled elf" is another nickname, said Mr. Feeney, who isn't as tall as some department personnel. He has been with the department 25 years.

There wasn't much to be disgruntled about Saturday as the department marked its golden anniversary.

At a table of firefighter-EMTs at the dinner in uniform, ready to rush from the salad bar to the next emergency call, Michael Hampton's colleagues said they would bring him a plate as they headed to the buffet and he stayed to speak with a guest.

They indeed brought the newest member of the crew, 25, a plate -- an empty one.

He took the jest in good humor. He knew these men were the same ones who trust each other with their lives, his included.

"Everyone watches each other's back ... when the tones go off, you focus," he said.

Much of that focus is on the medical care they're ready to give. Rather than rush a victim to a hospital, better technology and training enable rescuers to stay on scene and give much the same level of care a patient would get in an emergency room, minus the travel time.

To a one, department veterans mention medical training as what has changed the most over 50 years.

"We've always been forerunners of EMS in this community and have tended to be leaders in the area, and we want to continue providing residents that level of service," Fire Chief Tom Brice said.

The department was among the first locally to use transcutaneous pacing, which regulates a heartbeat externally through the skin, the chief said. He recalled the first pulse oximeter, which monitors hemoglobin, as the size of two shoe boxes. "Now you've got to be careful you don't lose them, they're so small," he said of the clip that goes on a patient's finger.

"Training is getting better and better; the education is higher," he said.

Battling blazes remains a priority, and the "old timers" remembered the big ones:

A tanker truck fire on State Rt.20. Ace Hardware. Belmont Country Club, sparked by a Christmas tree.

"There was a bad barn fire on [West] River Road that all the animals burned up," said Mary Wehde, wife of retired Chief Louis Wehde.

The department's future will include more mutual-aid pacts such as the one township recently made with Troy and Lake townships, Chief Brice said. "I think we're going to see a lot more regionalization with neighbors," he said, adding that tales of rescuers getting into fistfights over service territories are all in the past.

The gentle ribbing is likely to continue, and no one seems to mind.

When Mr. Eckel said he enjoys playing euchre in his retirement, Bob Warnimont, volunteer firefighter and township recreation department director, replied: "He doesn't play euchre, he cheats at euchre."

To which Mr. Eckel heartily laughed.